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From the Archives: The Transformation of North County

A look back at North County's rep in the '50s, '60s, and '90s
Covers from May 1962 and July 1994

By Erin Meanley Glenny

Within a single generation, the area now known as North County went from backcountry to bubble. In the ’50s and ’60s, this magazine portrayed it as a place San Diegans would venture to once in a while for a Sunday drive or round of golf. Now it’s no longer a destination—in fact, it has its own 1.3 million residents, many of whom only venture south for the occasional Padres game.

In May 1960, our cover announced: “North County—Ready To Explode” and exactly two years later, it read: “The Great North County Land Rush: A 27-Page Portfolio.” In 1970, we even took credit for having given it the name North County a decade prior.

We wrote about “The Great Poway Range War” of the early 1960s, as Poway found itself the center of a huge zoning dispute. Home to 6,000 people, it had a projected population of 65,000 within four and a half years. That would have been 1,100 percent population growth. One photo of a herd of cattle is captioned “Know what these Poway cows are grazing on? Borrowed time.”

It wasn’t just the proliferation of tract homes that prompted discussion. There was talk over the years to transform North County’s “sleepy lagoons.” Developers wanted to turn Carlsbad’s Agua Hedionda Lagoon into another Mission Bay, since by 1962 the bay was “overcrowded” and “there seems to be no limit to the newly found great general enthusiasm for boating.” San Elijo Lagoon once faced plans for waterfront lots with private docks and a sail-in movie theater.

By the mid-’90s, we were debating growth once again in the “northland empire,” citing NIMBY fears of “gang-banging, tagging, drive-by shootings and gridlock.” NoCo residents were worried about protecting their quality of life, as well as the environment. Some of the projects that fell by the wayside were a Costco in Solana Beach, and a minor league baseball stadium—with investment from Carlsbad trading card company Upper Deck—off the 78. But the completion of Del Mar Plaza and the prospect of a “Lego Family Park” were considered wins. We were also looking forward to the launch of the Coaster commuter between Oceanside and San Diego.

Some of this growth paved the way for San Diego Magazine’s annual Best of North County feature, which encompasses food, drinks, fitness, kid-friendly activities, and art. This year’s list clocks in at 53 items. You can see just how big the former “backcountry” has become at our Best of North County party on April 29 at the Park Hyatt Aviara. (A NoCo shindig? We bet our 1950s editors would hardly believe it.)

From the Archives: The Transformation of North County

Covers from May 1962 and July 1994

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